Between the Covers

The Good Parents

Joan London

A lost child is every parent’s worst nightmare. This finely interwoven tale of a family whose daughter has gone missing is Joan London’s second book. It recently won the Christina Stead Prize, while her first novel, Gilgamesh, was short-listed for the Miles Franklin.

Events start to unravel when the teenage Maya moves from the country to Melbourne. Seduced by her shonky boss, she vanishes with him when his business collapses. The repercussions of this on her parents Toni and Jacob and brother Magnus are the focus of the story.

Stranded in Melbourne, Toni and Jacob are forced to reassess their own lives. As we are drawn into their pasts we find echoes of Maya’s plight in theirs. Toni too came under the influence of a charismatic but ruthless man as a teenager. The story reflects on how the choices we make carry through our lives.

The characters in this book are so well-realised they almost step from the page. I would say leap but, despite its sometimes harsh material, this is a gently told story. The writing has a lovely stillness that draws you into the characters’ minds.

We see Magnus, straining at the boundaries of his provincial life; “He had an idea for a video clip called Six Thousand and One Nights in Warton. That was about how long he would have spent here – his whole life – when he left.”

Toni and Jacob, who once thought they were revolutionaries, have settled into their small town. In so doing they have found that; “the values they’d aspired to, sharing, hospitality, community, turned out to be country values, not radical at all.”

Maya is a shadowy figure throughout but we build up a picture of her from others’ memories; “She used to swing from roofs and branches with a knife between her teeth. She could never say no to a dare. Her name was Bandit Queen.”

Disappearance is an ongoing theme. Toni must disappear to escape the jealous and violent Cy Fisher. Jacob’s father vanishes at sea and the next-door-neighbour’s wife runs off with a man she meets on the internet. As with Maya, their physical absence does not make these people any less present.

Joan London has a light touch with prose and a wise eye for the subtle shades of intimacy. I found this book both moving and compelling.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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